Category Archives: recap/review

recaps, reviews, and thoughts on various movies, TV shows, books, and other review-able things of interest

Water Walker

Water Walker coverWater Walker
By Ted Dekker
Worthy Publishing
18 March 2014

I liked Water Walker MUCH better than its predecessor, Eyes Wide Open. It follows one of the minor characters from the previous novel, Alice Ringwald, and gives her her own story. Like Eyes Wide Open, the novel Water Walker is split into four parts, each of which was serialized for e-readers before being published as a complete novel in paperback.

The story begins, the main character says, “the night I discovered that I wasn’t me.” At thirteen years old, Alice has no memory of anything before six months ago, and when she’s taken into the care of two loving foster parents, she begins to settle into a peaceful life. Unfortunately, that all changes one evening when she’s kidnapped by her birth mother’s husband, Wyatt, and taken to live on a compound in the Louisiana bayou. Her birth mother Kathryn and younger half-brother Bobby meet her there, all of them under the tutelage of Zeke, a self-styled prophet of God on Earth.

The first nine chapters surround Alice’s abduction and the FBI’s fruitless search for her after she seems to fall off the map. Alice is immediately renamed “Eden” upon arriving in Louisiana, and chapter 10 and thereafter skips forward five years and follow’s the events surrounding her eighteenth birthday. Dekker writes another page-turner, but at least in this case I kept reading because I was interested in the story instead of because I was hoping for my expectations to be defied. (In Eyes Wide Open, my expectations were definitely NOT defied, unfortunately.)

This novel didn’t really surprise me, either: the “bad guy” was bad all the way through, the main character’s naiveté was never cured, and the Outlaw character still acted as deus ex machina, and I’ve never seen THAT work out well in contemporary literature. This novel was no exception in that respect.

The primary theme is forgiveness, and though the author had ample time to flesh out the characters and create a spellbinding, believable (in the story’s context) ending that included forgiveness, he didn’t. Alice/Eden just simply has an epiphany about “letting go of the boat in the storm” and “walking on water” and then just forgives her mother for all the abuse she inflicted upon her daughter for more than five years. That’s a romantic notion but hardly plausible given the way the novel is set up. Jesus is meant to be Alice/Eden’s role model—modeled to her in her dreams by the Outlaw—but even he got angry and yelled at people. Turning the other cheek is one thing; getting trampled is completely another.

Turning the other cheek and forgiving one’s aggressors is something that Jesus teaches, but it’s also one of the Biblical reasons that white plantation owners in the antebellum South gave for keeping black slaves. Just because Alice/Eden forgave her mother and Zeke (the evil bad guy who’s mostly off in the distance pulling people’s strings) at the end of the novel, there was a large chance that that would’ve changed nothing about her situation. Luckily for her, it worked out, but not everyone is granted with a happy ending. Where does a person, water walker or not, drawn the line? Would you “turn the other cheek” even unto death? Even unto the death of the person you care most about in the world?

DISCLAIMER: I received Water Walker free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Revive! The Oracles of God

Revive! coverRevive! The Oracles of God:
The Three Constants of the Christian Faith

By Ozakieoniso Charlie
WestBow Press
26 November 2013

oracle: noun a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity. (special usage) a person or thing regarded as an infallible authority or guide on something.

Revive! The Oracles of God is split into a preface, an introduction, and five chapters. For those who don’t know, a preface is usually about the book as a book that is separate from the rest of the material: methodology, how it was written, etc. An introduction, however, is about the book’s content. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Ozakieoniso Charlie understood the difference in this case because they bleed together and overlap.

The first chapter attempts to explain what an “oracle” is, but it isn’t very clear, evidenced by the fact that I had to look up the word’s contextual definition. The second, third, and fourth chapters cover the oracles themselves, which Charlie calls “the three constants of the Christian faith”: the Word of God (the Bible), prayer, and selfless service. Finally, the last section is where the author brings it all together with his 21-day prayer project.

The three oracles—the Word, prayer, and selfless service—are first introduced and then elaborated upon in their own chapters. Charlie’s writing is verbose and hard to follow, and his explaining “the three constants of the Christian faith” is no exception. My first reservation had to do with the apparent lack of focus (except in the very last section) on the most prominent figure in Christianity: Jesus. Talking about Jesus could get old really fast, especially for someone like me, who is not a Christian and hasn’t read anything “new” about Jesus since she was 15 years old, and so there’s potential for the lack of Jesus in a narrative about the Bible and Christianity to be complex, intriguing, and profound. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

The last section focuses on the reader’s application in their own life. It’s basically a prayer schedule: read a Bible verse or chapter (mostly from the Books of Isaiah and Revelation), “sing songs of praise for at least twenty minutes”, and then prayer for an hour or more at a time. The prayer is split into multiple prayer points, sometimes as many as 40, with many as in-understandable as “Every star destroyer from my hometown caging my star and my destiny, destroy yourselves, in the name of Jesus.” No one with decent reading ability should have to ask the author what something means because it’s the author’s job to write in a way that the reader will understand.

I have never seen the word “oracle” used in the way that the author uses it here, so wrapping my head around the special usage (see above) every time I read it was really distracting and removed me from what the author was trying to accomplish. The quotations from the King James Version Bible are excessive, sometimes pages long. Likewise, I read pages of non-Bible-verse material without a single paragraph break, and that’s not a good thing.

DISCLAIMER: I received Revive! The Oracles of God free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Nebraska (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
A while back, my family watched Napoleon Dynamite and my father’s only comment was “If I wanted to watch real life, I’d go back to living in [rural Texas, where he grew up].” Well, that’s how I felt watching Nebraska; if I wanted to watch reality, I’d just move to rural Texas with my Grandma. /sigh/ That being said, it was a good movie, just… hard. And shot completely in shades of grey (literally). Well cast and well acted, it just felt too close to home to enjoy watching it for any extended length of time. And, unlike Napoleon Dynamite, it wasn’t even trying to be funny.

Something the Lord Made (viewed at home 23 February 2014)
The partnership between a white man with a doctoral degree and black man with a high school education literally changed the world. I learned nolitangere: do not touch the heart; ancient medical wisdom that was knocked flat on its ass when Blalock and Thomas came along. The politics at Johns Hopkins and between white and black people was despicable, and seeing how crappy people have been (are still being) treated always makes me want to take to the streets in protest. It’s gotten better, but what the hell. How has it been this long since the partnership between these men and we’re still acting like collective dickheads?? Really? Argh. /flips table/

12 Years a Slave (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Good, hard movie. Well performed and shot. If there’s anyone who deserves the Oscar for Best Actor, it’s the guy who played the title character, no doubt. Now, as for the film itself: difficult to watch, graphic, and at times sickening. And I realize that “the slave states were actually like that” but do we REALLY have to use the n-word over and over? And coming from white people’s mouths? If a person of color wants to use the n-word as a way to reclaim it, that’s their right, but I don’t think a white person should ever say it… in jest, on screen, or otherwise.

The Wolf of Wall Street (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Wow no. Just. No. Sexism, heterosexism, extensive drug use, over use of the word “fuck” (539 times in 2 hours and 50 minutes, to be exact). Ugh. I didn’t like any part of this movie. So much excess and it got old really fast. It could’ve ended in like three places, at least one of them an hour sooner than it did. Black comedy? No, just blech.

Dallas Buyers Club (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Decent. Of the films I saw on the first day of the showcase, I’d give this one a pretty good shot for Best Picture. It annoys me, however, that people seem to give extra credit to “hard stories”—which this story definitely is—and awards to dickwads (ie: Jared Leto) for playing “impossible” characters. I’m getting really tired of straight guys being awarded for playing gay/transgender people on screen. It’s not like there’s a dearth of gay/transgender actors who could play those parts. I don’t even want that, really, I just want people to stop lauding the guys who already have everything for pretending to be something that’s so difficult to be on screen. Real people deal with that shit every day and don’t get awarded; sometimes they don’t even survive.

Starlight

Starlight coverStarlight
By Scott Ely
Open Road Integrated Media
28 January 2014

Jackson, the protagonist in Starlight, has only 300 days left in Vietnam, and he wants to spend them safely behind a desk at a firebase on the Laos border. Unfortunately, the war isn’t going to let him off so easy, and a haunted rifleman who stays alive despite himself, Tom Light, is dropped off at the base one day demanding his R&R. Thing is, everyone who goes into the bush with Light gets killed, and he’s become bad luck to everyone around him. You get near Tom Light, you die; that’s the unspoken rule, and so the other soldiers keep their distance. Jackson, however, wants to learn Light’s secret to survival, and he sticks close by the sniper once Light promises him safety in exchange for writing his letters home, something that Jackson does multiple times over the course of the novel.

The Vietnamese believe that Light’s sniper scope has the power to raise the dead, and they literally bring out the rotting corpses of their kin when they discover that he’s in town. Jackson’s goal is to get out of Vietnam alive; nobody knows what Tom Light’s goal is. (He’d probably say something like, “Kill those fuckers.”)

If you’re looking for a happy ending or a fairytale, Starlight isn’t it. But maybe that’s the point; the Vietnam War itself had no happy ending, and it wasn’t exactly a romantic vision of war. Near the end of the book, Hale (the commanding officer at the firebase where Jackson is stationed) complains about conscripts: no “professional” soldier would ever lose a firefight against the enemy, especially not an inferior enemy. (I am not implying that Vietnamese people are inferior Americans or anyone else, but the war wasn’t politically correct, and this novel isn’t either.)

The novel feels unfinished. That is, there is no resolution or denouement, just like real life. The last couple of chapters bring the grim realities of war into stark focus, and neither Jackson nor Tom Light and his mystical starlight scope can save their fellow soldiers from the Viet Cong ambushing them from all sides. Starlight has a fuzzy quality to it, like looking through fogged glass and trying to see clearly. Reading the novel, I was unsure what was real and what was hallucinatory, and it’s obvious that the characters aren’t sure either.

Though it’s well written, I’m honestly not sure what to make of this novel by Scott Ely. Is it a treatise on the futility of war? How much of a lost cause the soldiers in the war felt they were? I don’t know. You should read it and decide for yourself.

DISCLAIMER: I received Starlight free from Open Road Integrated Media for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Twisted

Twisted coverTwisted
By Holly Hook
CreateSpace/self-published
01 December 2013

A piece of science fiction/fantasy for young adults that does not have vampires and werewolves in it? Amazing! Holly Hook’s Twisted has a new take on the word “twisted”—and that’s a good thing. (For comparison, I have three other novels with the same title sitting on my ‘to read’ list, and all three are about broken and confused romances; ugh.) In this novel, however, the protagonist goes from regular teenage girl to Outbreaker (a person who turns into a tornado during storms… yes, really) and I was relieved that I wasn’t reading another overused romantic cliche of a book. Hook’s work is new and engaging.

I noticed a few irritating spelling errors (often, they were actually correctly spelled words used incorrectly) and grammatical mistakes, but I’m always on the lookout for that and I’m willing to give this novel a partial pass because the story is so appealing. I have an ebook version, and I can’t say it’s excellently formatted, but the formatting doesn’t distract from the plot and characters, either.

Allie, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, gets swept into a world she never imagined existed after her tornado-chasing vacation with her uncle takes a turn for the deadly. In the middle of a storm out in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, two adults temporarily kidnap her and bestow upon her the volatile ability to outbreak… All at once, it seems, Allie attracts storms and then becomes part of them, literally. Unable to control her new power, she shifts back and forth between frightened human and disastrous tornado with only so much as a thunder storm to warn the people around her how dangerous she’s suddenly become. She and her best friend Tommy set out to find a way to reverse her transformation, dragging her uncle and an entire Nebraska town with them in the process.

I enjoyed Allie’s realness; we as readers of the supernatural like to think we’d have a good time drinking blood and living forever or being able to move things with our minds, but in reality, that kind of thing is scary. The characters we like in fiction are often the same kind of people who we find creepy or beyond irritating in reality. Allie doesn’t jump at the chance to become a tornado the way I can imagine many other characters in fiction might. She’s afraid. She’s real, and I appreciate that. None of the characters are perfect, including Allie, and that’s what makes them all interesting, not that they have these strange tornado powers and are somehow interesting just because of that.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I definitely recommend giving it a shot, especially if you like young adult sci-fi and/or fantasy novels but are tired of all the usual suspects. Great job, Holly! (The author also has several other novels published as well, at least one of which is related to Outbreakers, and I’ll be reading them, too, if/when I can get my hands on them. Likewise, Twisted is the first in a trilogy, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Allie soon!)

DISCLAIMER: I received Twisted free from Mark My Words Publicity for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Psalms of Sonorous

Psalms of Sonorous coverPsalms of Sonorous
By Nancy G. Wright
WestBow Press
26 November 2013

sonorous: adj. (of a person’s voice or other sound) imposingly deep and full. also: capable of producing a deep or ringing sound; using imposing language (in text or speech); having a pleasing sound

Psalms of Sonorous is comprised of almost 120 poorly written poems that all glorify the god of Abraham. Many of the poems have promise, but promise alone does not a good poem necessarily make. Most are written in the narrative style with an ABAB-, ABCB-, or AABB-type rhyme scheme. It’s clear from the sheer quantity of poems in this collection that Nancy G. Wright, the poet, loves God, and it seems as though she took a cue from the Book of Psalms or Song of Songs.

A difference between this collection and Psalms, however, is that all of these poems are praising God for his goodness and righteousness; while Psalms has plenty of poems similar in theme, there are also those that call out to him in despair or anger. Likewise, a difference between Song of Songs and Wright’s poetry is that Psalms of Sonorous fails to include anything titillating; none of the poems left me with a sense of awe, identification with the poet, or so much as any desire to continue reading.

Poetry is already difficult for the average reader to access; I wouldn’t recommend wasting time on bad poetry. For Christian poetry with zing, I’d (re)read Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome.

DISCLAIMER: I received Psalms of Sonorous free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Philomena (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Ireland! Evil nuns! Selling babies for profit! Awkward talks about sex! “Human interest” stories! Travel abroad! What more could you want? I was angry by the end, and I’m glad Sixsmith (male protagonist) wasn’t able to forgive the nuns, either, because I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to. Best lines:

Philomena: And after I had the sex, I thought anything that feels so lovely must be wrong.
Martin Sixsmith: Fucking Catholics.

Saving Mr. Banks (watched in theaters 26 January 2014)
Mrs. P.L. Travers was a handful, wasn’t she? Yes, but so was Walt Disney. Ugh; double standards. I liked it, I guess; I liked Colin Ferrell’s character, and then I didn’t like him because he was a drunk and a dick to his wife. Watched this for a family night; Grandma’s choice. Travers had a hard time in Los Angeles with Walt Disney (not to mention he didn’t respect her repeated request to be called “Mrs. Travers” instead of “Pamela” or “Pam”), but in the end it felt like he got what he wanted anyway? I don’t know; I like a woman who’s hard to ignore, and I don’t like a man who disrespects that, so. And now I have to watch Mary Poppins again just to see if there’s any red in the film at all.

Frozen (viewed in theaters 29 December 2013)
Saw this with family: Johnny and Trish, Mom and Dad, Bunny, and Grandma. As for my thoughts? Honestly? No. It was… not that great. It really had nothing to do with the story upon which it was based, and I just don’t even have time to go into how I really feel about the film overall. The snowman sidekick was terrible. The two men characters (Kristoff and Hans) aren’t even in the original story to begin with, the two women characters (Anna and Elsa) are suddenly sisters (really?), and the only decent character was Sven (Kristoff’s reindeer—I’m not even kidding) even though he wasn’t in the original story either. Ugh. Here, just read this. It’s how I feel.

Ender’s Game (viewed in theaters 29 November 2013)
The family saw this on a whim one Friday evening with some extended family (paternal aunt and her wife), but we weren’t exactly organized in our travel and other arrangements and we missed the first half hour. My sister and grandma saw all but the first few minutes, though, and they said that if you’d read the book, the beginning wasn’t particularly necessary since it’s basically setting up the scene and characters for audience members who have not read the book. Best line: [impatiently] “This is basic rocket science, people.” Also, I agree with the Slate review. Also, Orson Scott Card is a heterosexist dickwad.

Gravity in 3D (watched in theaters 26 October 2013)
Really good. My dad and I saw this together in 3D. Sandra Bullock basically carried the entire movie by herself. My dad works as an engineer at JPL and his primary concern, of course, was the complete lack of scientific accuracy in the main character’s traveling between the various space ships. (It was related to relative orbits around the Earth, etc., but don’t ask me to be any more specific than that.) As a civilian/commoner, however, I thought the film held up really well; artistic liberties had to be taken so that the audience wouldn’t have to sit through an astrophysics lesson, after all.